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Connie Schultz
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New Airport Policy: Grin and Bare It


If you're one of the millions of Americans who resolved to get in shape this year but lack motivation, booking a flight at an airport near you might be just the ticket to push you to feel the burn.

Whenever you fly, you're used to tossing your bags on a conveyor belt and then removing shoes and enough clothing to leave you just this side of bare-naked. Soon you'll get to stand with your arms out and legs spread so that a stranger huddled over a computer can peer at an image of virtually nude, lumpy you.

The stranger doesn't see your face, and you never see the stranger's face. But both of you will know that lurking under what's left of your clothing are more bumps and bulges than the Appalachian foothills have.

If you think I'm making light of the full-body scanners on order for airports across the country, you're right. For one thing, I saw these computer-generated images up close and personal last summer, after two of the machines were installed at Cleveland's airport. These images are not pornographic unless your sexual fantasies steer toward cartoon characters and robots, in which case "ew" doesn't begin to diagnose your issues.

More importantly, on Christmas Day we allegedly came this close to a would-be terrorist named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab using plastic explosives sewn in his underwear to blow up a commercial flight headed for America. As I wrote just last summer, anyone wearing this travel accessory probably would not make it through a full-body scanner. But Abdulmutallab — a 23-year-old Nigerian with no coat, no luggage and cash for his ticket — ambled right through the metal detector in Amsterdam and onto Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

Not exactly Secret Agent Man.

Abdulmutallab's father had tried to warn American officials about his son. Reportedly, an initial search misspelled his name, so no one discovered he had a multiple-entry visa. This error is confounding to some of us. Enter a misspelled name in a Google search and you immediately are greeted with "Did you mean" in bright red letters, followed by the correct spelling.

It's a little unsettling to think that security systems haven't figured that one out.

The Transportation Security Administration has ordered 130 full-body scanners, which emit low-level X-rays and produce computer images that look like chalk drawings.

An additional 300 scanners are on order for next year.

There are numerous precautions to protect your privacy. The TSA screener who waves you through is not the one who sees your computer image, which is deleted as soon as you're cleared. The images can't be stored, printed or transmitted, and the person scanning the pictures is not allowed to bring a cell phone or camera into the room.

Nevertheless, some insist that these full-body scanners are a violation of privacy. It doesn't help when TV news anchors keep warning viewers about "graphic images" and praising grim-faced male volunteers as "brave" and "courageous" before walking in front of the scanners that pick up every piece of fake contraband they're wearing.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union championed the privacy of celebrities who live and work in Los Angeles and fear their computer images could be posted on the Internet. People who regularly expose themselves for money and attention probably don't make the best victims, and so lately we aren't hearing that argument much. Now we're talking about how Grandma should be able to keep her waist-highs to herself.

There are also protests from the usual cast of angry Americans who insist you can't trust the government to make travel any safer. A curious argument coming from an entire population of people who turn the key in the ignition and pull out onto roads paved, painted and policed by — how's this for coincidence? — the government.

Think about it. We carry licenses issued by the government, strap on seat belts required by the government and then follow any number of traffic laws passed by the government. We also assume that all the strangers sharing the road with us passed the same driver's test given by the government.

So, c'mon, you're going to stand there and tell me you don't trust the government?

Now, that's a funny image.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, "Life Happens" and "... and His Lovely Wife." She is a featured contributor in a recently released book by Bloomsbury, "The Speech: Race and Barack Obama's 'A More Perfect Union.'" To find out more about Connie Schultz ( and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



8 Comments | Post Comment
Thank you Ms Schultz for the great column. I am glad that you reminded people about the great services that government provides, i.e., police, firefighters, roads. Thank you and keep up the good work!

Signed Laura from Cleveland
Comment: #1
Posted by: Laura
Sun Jan 10, 2010 4:31 AM
Your last paragraph, "Think about it ..." lists a few activities wherein the federal and state governments have given us regulations for certain things. But your point is grossly misplaced: Those activities show our trust in the manufacturer (of the car, if we do, indeed, trust the seat belt) or the other people driving (the government doesn't cause people to drive responsibly). The government enforces laws by exception - they don't provide "public safety". The job of the cops is to catch people who have broken a law. That does not make the roads safe. People driving responsibly does so - even if some of those responsible drivers are not wearing their seat belts.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Manfred
Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:09 AM
The folks in government offices pass a law that you must have a license, if you do not do as they say, they will fine you and eventually throw you in submit to avoid financial and physical pain...therefore you trust the people who hold government offices.
The government has monopolized the construction and management of roads (barring the occassional private "pal" that is allowed to take a piece of the loot...I mean taxes), you drive on these roads because you have no choice, therefore you must trust the government to provide...
Is this your logic? Really? Wow, I take it that winning a Pulitzer doesn't require the ability to think?
Comment: #3
Posted by: Ted
Sat Jan 30, 2010 7:39 AM
I's always a "funny image" to me when some government shill such at this author, who has little or no critical thinking skills and merely parrots whatever the government says is good for her, suggests that the government somehow has saved us from business.
I also find it humorous that a syndicated columnist would be so simple-minded as to over-generalize and suggest all celebrities "regularly expose themselves for money."
So, if it weren't for government, all of us would be careening into each other on the roads? Without government telling us what to do, it suddenly would not be in our own best interest to not crash into things and other people? And what of the cops in my hometown, who frequently drive well over the posted speed limit (35) down the main street and right past two restaurants that sit across the street from each other - who will protect us from them?
If humans inherently need to be policed, tell me exactly what training program these helpful police and government employees have gone through to have their humanity removed or place in check. If people are inherently flawed and people work for the government, then government is also inherently flawed.
Comment: #4
Posted by: PhilB
Sat Jan 30, 2010 4:35 PM
This article is ridiculous. You are frighteningly mistaken about the level of detail these images take... and anyone with access to Google can go see them for themselves. Make your own opinions on this people!
What will be the plan when these fail to stop the next crazy person? What if the next attacker goes for a bus or a shopping mall?
This insanity has to stop somewhere... and I think X-rays that can take, store, and transmit naked images of innocent Americans and their children is far too much.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Brian
Sat Jan 30, 2010 9:58 PM
This woman is crazy scary. These body scanners have been proven to be so detailed that if a child were to go through them it is considered CHILD PORN. Further, her whole argument for the government making travel safer is based on roadways?? Statistically the most deadly form of travel we use??? (about 43,000 people die per year) and thats not counting accidents where someone is just seriously injured. As a whole planes are far safer, were far safer, (even before 9/11) than traveling in a car will ever be. This article is so simplistic and dumbed down that I can barely stand to read it. In the immortal words of Ben Franklin, "those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both". If we dont stand together against these scanners, for heavens sake when will we? Sorry, I dont want to be photographed nude for anyone just because I want to travel on a plane. We still have rights in this country and its been far too long since we banded together and used them.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Jeff
Sun Jan 31, 2010 4:00 AM
Connie and writers like her really amaze me. She's basically placing a really good spin on a TSA press release. And yet, so many excellent freedom-loving writers are excluded from the supposedly honored pages of this newspaper and other mainstream media. And newspapers wonder why they're losing readers?!?
I'd love to see the opinion of someone who doesn't believe the TSA press release; someone who doesn't have a naive trust in a government headed by a man who receives the Nobel Peace Prize for continuing the war policies of his predecessor; someone who realizes that just because the TSA says that their pornographic and dangerous X-rays aren't dangerous doesn't mean they're safe; someone who cares about freedom instead of the pseudo-security of the TSA. Then again, Connie is a "Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist." Oh well, I guess it's all okay then.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Tricia
Sun Jan 31, 2010 4:51 AM

You're a tad out of touch with some of "the herd."

I obey the laws (don't want to be jailed, fined, shot; some laws address things I do anyway). I don't trust the government. I assume that every other driver on the road is an idiot or temporarily impaired since drivers' tests don't screen for those traits, assuming the other drivers even have valid licenses.

I'm as worried as the next guy about terrorism (i.e., not much), but I don't see how having fans put bags over their heads and strip so high school security eunuchs (Honest!) can be sure they aren't going to blow up a hundred locals is much different a concept. You favor that, too?

Comment: #8
Posted by: Lou Skannen
Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:12 PM
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